Innovation Centre Drives Decade of Growth at Willowbrook Foods
Ireland’s largest bagged salad producer and specialist in prepared vegetables, Willowbrook Foods, has marked the tenth anniversary of its Innovation Centre in County Down, describing it as instrumental in helping the business grow by on average 18% year on year over the past decade. The centre, at Willowbrook’s Killinchy headquarters, was designed in 2008 to be a hub for new product development, led by consumer trends and advances in technology so the company could meet bespoke orders for its customer base across the retail and foodservice sectors.
John McCann MBE (pictured above), Managing Director of Willowbrook Foods, comments: “We set about building a facility with modern kitchens, state-of-the-art tasting and packing areas, and, most importantly, a first-class team of staff specialising in all elements of product development. A major investment for us at the time, the Centre has allowed us to perfect our offering to customers to reflect emerging food trends with the best ingredients, flavour, texture and shelf life. We have been able to enter into new markets such as healthcare and travel catering through our ability to develop bespoke product lines and pack formats through the Innovation Centre.”
John McCann believes the Centre has allowed Willowbrook to stay ahead of consumer trends, in particular the huge rise in demand for foods that are both convenient and health-oriented: “Consumer needs are ever-evolving and we have been able to stay one step ahead of the demand for healthy, convenient salad and vegetable products thanks to our Innovation team’s expertise. To use one product example, we have developed and perfected a full range of mashed vegetable lines, including potato, carrot, swede, parsnip and sweet potato. This range contains no additives. Equally we have been able to develop more niche health-focused lines including non-dairy, low-salt, mashed potato, for catering use within the healthcare sector. This innovative work continues through our development into the free from and vegan markets.”
Willowbrook Foods supplies its products across the UK and Ireland and is currently developing lines for international customers in Dubai and Hong Kong. With further ambitious growth plans in place, Willowbrook Foods opened a second production facility in Newtownards earlier this year, aimed at doubling its production capacity, and is seeking to extend its existing headquarters and employee base.